September 11 retrospective: People sought solace in their faith in the days after the attacks
For months, 911 numbers had stood out for Rhonda Matthews. She felt like they were a call to prayer, but she didn’t know why.
Matthews, the senior pastor of New Life Church, has led the 11 a.m. Tuesday prayer at the church almost since it began more than 25 years ago. And that Tuesday, her phone started ringing early. People saw the news; people were afraid.
This Tuesday morning, she saw more people than usual praying.
“It was pure evil,” she said. “I must have comforted a lot of people.
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Reverend Ted Clarkson, Acting Rector of The Church of the Good Shepherd, remembers that day vividly. This was before he was a member of the clergy, still a practicing lawyer at the time. He remembers watching as the news rolled in, attorneys and office staff affixed to the television footage, the District of Columbia and New York City. His wife came down that morning to join him.
“Now was not the time to be alone,” Clarkson said. “I remember being so grateful that our church hosted a service this very afternoon.”
Matthews saw, and Clarkson experienced, first hand, one of the first explosive ripple effects of September 11, 2001: a height of mourning, longing, and spiritual search.
In the days that followed, prayer was held in New Life on several occasions as people tried to understand what they had seen and heard.
“People have had a lot of different emotions,” Matthews said.
And they knew they didn’t have the answers to what they had been through. They sought to find spiritual meaning where emotional and mental responses did not satisfy.
“We all needed the comfort of our God and the knowledge that God is ultimately responsible,” said Clarkson. “Our priest read the book of Job, one of the lessons of which is that we humans will not always understand why something is happening, but we must always trust God.”
The Pew Research Center noted an increase in prayer and the importance of religion in the lives of Americans as early as November 2001. A survey by the center found that 69% of Americans said they prayed more immediately after the attacks terrorists, from September 13 to 17. While that number fell to 44% in November, 16% said they attended more church services than they were before the attacks.
People’s struggle to understand the gravity, the tragedy, and the broader implications of being a person of faith in America seemed to give way not only to more intense research, but to more genuine connections to their faith, and thus to them. with each other.
Matthews remembers. In the weeks that followed, she saw something beautiful happen.
“I saw a spirit of unity in the nation and in the body of Christ,” she said. “I have seen people genuinely care about their brother and sister, no matter where they come from.”
The rise of faith among Americans was significant but not sustained, according to statistics. But in the 20 years that followed the attacks, this upturn remains revealing.
“I believe this is a time when our faith and traditions are more important than ever,” said Rabbi David Sirull of Adas Yeshurun Synagogue.
Reflection on 9/11 and the swelling of faith that followed seem to show how religious traditions and spirituality persist not only as a means of comfort, reflection, and even community, but also as insight in the midst of devastating times.
“According to Jewish tradition, each human life is considered a whole world,” Sirull said. “Whether we are talking about the 3,000 innocent souls lost on September 11, the 6 million Jewish victims who were murdered in the Holocaust or a friend who recently died from COVID, every life is sacred, created in the image of God and, therefore, a tragic loss in any case.
Clarkson says what it means to be a person of faith has not changed after 9/11, but may have changed, or at least affected, the way some have come to understand what faith is.
“I believe some came to the faith and others left the faith based on their understanding of ‘the faith’,” Clarkson said. “For those who believed that people of faith are protected from all evil, their faith has been challenged if not destroyed by the deaths of so many innocent people. For those who believe that God will be with people of faith, especially when there is suffering, these people have likely seen their faith strengthened. “
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Clarkson recalled that his priest, during the service at his church on September 11, had read the Book of Job, 42: 2.
“I know you can do anything and none of your goals can be thwarted.”
Looking back on this day also evokes Psalm 121: 1-2 for Clarkson.
“I look up at the hills – where will my help come from?” My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Editor-in-chief Charmain Z. Brackett contributed to this story.
Skyler Q. Andrews is a reporter who covers Columbia County with The Augusta Press. Contact him at [email protected]